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4 keys to Stanford making a deep run in the 2022 Men's College World Series

Jun 17, 2022
Alex Williams | Stanford Athletics

No. 2-seeded Stanford, the highest-ranked team left in the NCAA Tournament, will represent the Pac-12 in the 2022 Men's College World Series, which begins this weekend in Omaha, Nebraska.

The Cardinal open their slate against Arkansas on Saturday at 11 a.m. PT on ESPN.

It's no surprise to see Stanford advance this far, as this marks its 18th College World Series appearance and second straight.

The Cardinal (47-16) won the Pac-12 regular-season championship outright, then claimed the first-ever Pac-12 Baseball Tournament Championship before winning the Stanford Regional and Super Regional.

Here are some keys to Stanford continuing its postseason success in Omaha. Special thanks to Pac-12 Networks broadcaster Troy Clardy, who hosts the TreeCast podcast and has called games for 10 different Pac-12 sports, for providing some expert analysis.

1. Get Alex Williams — and the rest of the starting rotation — back on track

Alex Williams, the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year, posted a 1.67 ERA in the regular season, but has struggled in his last three starts and only managed to record four outs in his lone outing against UConn in Super Regionals, allowing seven runs in an eventual 13-12 loss.

"I've never heard Alex Williams get hit hard like that," Clardy said. "Not just seen, but heard it. You could tell the contact that UConn was making was something that no one else had done at any point throughout the course of the regular season and into the NCAA is at that point. But if he's able to become more efficient, if he is able to pound the strike zone like he has, and if he's able to pitch with fire like he has for much of his career, those are the three building blocks that Williams can use to get back to the form that we saw from him for much of the regular season."

Stanford's pitching struggles haven't been limited to Williams. As Clardy noted, Cardinal starters only recorded two outs in the two Super Regionals game it won. Fortunately, the bullpen — particularly guys like Quinn Mathews, Ryan Bruno, Brandt Pancer and Tommy O'Rourke — stepped up to help the Cardinal recover from early deficits.

2. Keep the hits — and homers — coming

Stanford has also been able to overcome its starting pitching woes this postseason because of its offense. The Cardinal outscored UConn 30-20 in Super Regionals, plating at least eight runs in all three games.

In total, the Cardinal tallied 42 hits, 12 homers, six doubles and 16 walks in Super Regionals. They hit eight homers in Game 1 alone.

You can thank a deep lineup for that.

Stanford has four players — Brock Jones, Drew Bowser, Carter Graham, and Braden Montgomery — with 18 or more homers, and Clardy noted how the bottom of batting lineup, such as Eddie Park, Tommy Troy and Adam Crampton, have come through with several big hits this postseason.

"It's just really a diverse offense," Clardy said. "They can score any way you want to. I mean, heck, if you want to serve up home run balls and have them knock them out of the park, then hey, Stanford will be more than happy to oblige. But they can get runs any way possible. ... Home runs, small ball, timely hits, any way you want to go, Stanford can beat you. There's a reason why (head coach) David Esquer says that this is perhaps the best offense he's ever coached."

3. Show off that Stanford swagger

Because of how they swing the bat, the Cardinal remain confident even when they face early deficits. Down 3-0 early? No problem. They'll hang a six spot on you to re-take the lead.

The Cardinal never cower when they face adversity, contrary to what some people might think about the program.

"Folks think of Stanford and they think of a school, a bunch of smart kids go there, so you're thinking to yourself, 'OK, I might have an easy time going against them because they're not going to be able to handle adversity well.' Don't forget, Stanford kids have an edge too," Clardy said. "What it takes to get into that school, what it takes to compete and to be a student-athlete at that level at that school, you got to have a little bit of an edge to you."

"This is a squad that has some dog in it, has some swagger to it — like Ryan Bruno chatting at the opposing dugouts when he's striking out opposing dudes. If you think Stanford is just all about glamour and glitz and a bunch of nerds just hitting the books and they'll just fold if you just breathe on them, I got news for you. Stanford ain't gonna turtle. They're not gonna punk out. And I think they've proven that time and time again. They've had a lot of opportunities to prove it with as many times as they've been down, especially throughout this postseason. The Cardinal have a bit of an edge to him. And it'll take you by surprise if you don't know about it. And if you're not ready for it, by the time you really realize it, chances are pretty good it's going to be too late and they're going to be off to another win at your expense."

4. Draw from that Omaha experience

Stanford and Texas are the only teams in the field making back-to-back trips to the Men's College World Series. That experience could help the Cardinal, who already know what to expect when they take the field at Charles Schwab Field Omaha.

Last season, the Cardinal fell to NC State in their opener then beat Arizona before seeing their season end on a wild pitch in a 6-5 loss to Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals, a heartbreaker that is motivating them this time around.

"Early on during their stay in Omaha, man, they were like rock stars in that town," Clardy said. "Brock Jones was taking selfies on the field with the fans in the background and all those sorts of things, and Stanford was kind of becoming one of the darlings of the squad of the College World Series. So they certainly had a lot of fun and they proved a bit last year that they that they know how to handle the stage. And not just how to handle it but to actually have fun on the stage and to have joy in playing in the College World Series man. This is what you play for, right? And they play that way."